I know that when it comes to history, the names of Don Chafin and the Devil Anse Hatfield family standout for their distinguished contributions to true American history: Chafin for his renowned 1921 stance against marching miners at Blair Mountain. And, of course, the Hatfields for their role in the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud that lasted for many years following the Civil War.
An in-depth look at the Hatfields and their relative, Sheriff Don Chafin, who had several of the Hatfield clan on his payroll, reveals just how sinister Chafin and several of the sons of Anderson and Levisa Hatfield actually were. As a matter of record, the hatred that would brew between Chafin and his former partner in crime, Tennis Hatfield, has never been told in full.
Tennis, the youngest son of the most famous feudal leader in American history, is quite an amazing story by himself. However, when you recount the actions of Hatfield and Chafin following the raid on their Blue Goose Inn location at Barnabus in 1922, it is stunning to see at what great lengths these men and their allies would go to try and politically eliminate the other. Their actions, I am convinced, helped lead to the demise of the Hatfield name and the family fortune, while it likely caused Chafin to pull up roots from Logan and settle out of the limelight in Huntington for the remainder of his life.
Let's take a walk back into the dark past as we rekindle the life and times of a fast growing Logan County at a juncture when coal production was peaking annually and the City of Logan was bursting at its seams - 1924.
Even though there were four Midelburg Theatre operations going on daily at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. at these locations - Logan, Holden, Omar and Ethel - there were many hundreds of people who on a Friday night in January marched in a public demonstration and parade through the streets of Logan bearing a number of fiery crosses. It was reported that "over 500 white robed figures" took place in the demonstration that was brought about by Klansmen of the Logan Klan, No. 45 of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
The march continued into nearby Deskins Addition and then settled at what was called the Ellis Park in Ellis Addition near where Baisden Brothers Hardware has operated for more many years. After men of prominent Klan circles addressed the largest group of spectators in the local group's history, a dual initiation of both men and women was solemnly conducted for the male and female orders.
Across from the courthouse on Jefferson Avenue, where McCormick's Dept. store now looms as one of the oldest businesses in Logan, the Jefferson Hotel, once repudiated for its less than savory reputation, was under new management. A Huntington resident, Homer Bradley, had announced plans to paint the inside of the facility and to refurnish it, as well as open a dining room and restaurant in the 60-room hotel, which, according to a Logan Banner account, featured "many rooms with baths."
These events, nevertheless, had taken a back seat to the 1924 general election in Logan County, which is of impressive interest for several reasons, and is not limited to the sudden emergence of the Republican Party, led by Calvin Coolidge's bid for the presidency of the United States.
To begin with, Logan County had remained strongly politically Democratic since the Civil War because of its people's disdain for former Republican President Abraham Lincoln in his successful efforts to gain freedom for slaves, many of which were owned by prominent Loganites in various parts of the county.
There have been numerous elections in Logan County where the deciding ballots were determined either in a recount or by a canvassing of the ballots by county commissioners. Most, if not all of those election results were dealt with during primary elections involving Democrats. In the election of 1923, it was Republican Tennis Hatfield versus Emmett Scaggs, a Democrat, for the office of sheriff, previously held by Democrat Don Chafin.
Chafin, maybe the wealthiest man in Logan County and a man of national prominence, was fighting for his political life during the final months of 1923, and Hatfield, his former deputy and partner in the Blue Goose Inn, was testifying against him in federal court. Having been previously indicted on charges of violating the Volstead Act and unlawfully engaging in the retail liquor business during Prohibition, Chafin was determined to see to it that Hatfield was not elected sheriff.
To demonstrate to what lengths Chafin would take to destroy his new nemesis, one week later the headlines of The Logan Banner would read: "Republican Nominee is indicted for Activities at Barnabus in 1922."
As the principal witness against Chafin, Hatfield found himself indicted by a Logan Grand Jury for owning and operating a moonshine still. The evidence, it was learned, was presented by none other than a McCoy - not exactly a favorite name for any Hatfield, even in 1923. State trooper H.L. McCoy had been a member of the police who had raided the Blue Goose in December of 1922.
McCoy testified that he, three other state policemen, and one federal prohibitions agent had made the raid on the establishment and that they had found two stills in the basement set up for operation, one dismantled still, 16 half-gallon jars of whiskey, seven barrels of mash, and about 30 cases of raisins.
It should be pointed out that Hatfield already had served time in prison for his part in the Blue Goose Inn affair. However, Logan Prosecuting Attorney John "Con" Chafin said his conviction in federal court had been for selling whiskey, while the new Logan County circuit court charges were for "the operation of a moonshine still."
As a sidebar, it should be noted that Chafin would in the early 1930s be found standing erect in the Guyandotte River, the result of what was declared a suicide, having last been seen attending a revival at a local Stratton Street church just the night before.
The newspaper headlines no doubt hurt Hatfield's election bid for sheriff, while in the meantime, Chafin was filing an appeal to the Supreme Court of his federal court conviction of conspiracy to violate the Volstead Law. Chafin had been sentenced to two years in an Atlanta penitentiary and fined $10,000. His appeal would not be heard until after the general election, giving him time to try and thwart Hatfield's campaign.
The race between Hatfield and Scaggs was extremely close and marred by corruption charges from both sides. So, naturally, when the final votes came in, they were disputed. Later, the Democratic commissioners were accused of not counting hundreds of challenged ballots that were reportedly marked for Hatfield and other Republican candidates, which would have made them winners. As it was, Scaggs had been declared the victor in the race for sheriff by a narrow margin.
Hatfield filed a petition for a writ of mandamus which the State Supreme Court agreed to hear, forcing all three Logan County commissioners to testify and show good cause why certain ballots of some precincts were rejected by them as acting Board of Canvassers.
It would take 16 months, but the Supreme Court finally ruled in Hatfield's favor, while in the meantime Chafin lost his U.S. Supreme Court appeal and was headed off to prison following President Coolidge's refusal to grant him a pardon. The Governor of Georgia, a Democrat, however, would grant Chafin a pardon 10 months later.
The fight for political control in Logan County had become a statewide issue with Attorney General E.T. England, a former law partner with Coleman Hatfield when their offices were in the Holland Building that still stands on Stratton Street in Logan, leading the charge. England had previously obtained an injunction to restrain the operation of what was described as "the alleged mine guard system in Logan County."
Although the Supreme Court had nullified the injunction, State Sen. George Price of Charleston was urging the court to issue a permanent order ending any hope of interference with the mining operations in Logan. Price, a political friend of former Sheriff Chafin, had this to say about the affairs of Logan County:
'This is a plain question of jurisdiction," said Price. "This injunction proceeding was brought in Kanawha County against some 100 or 400 people living in Logan County. It is against the judge of the circuit court of Logan, the county court, the sheriff, several hundred deputies and about 100 coal companies.
"It is brought to Kanawha County to stop certain government activities in Logan County. It is nothing more than a sweeping attack by the attorney general to take charge of affairs in Logan County. Where were you when the armed march cases were to be presented?" asked Price.
England countered by declaring, "We can't prosecute the Logan deputy sheriffs and they are running people out of the county, beating them up and killing them."
England, who at one time owned controlling stock of The Logan Banner, had announced that the newspaper had been given "large amounts of money" to keep its silence in regards to the action of former sheriff Chafin and his mine guards system.
In an editorial in the newspaper, The Banner described England's remarks as "scandalous, untruthful and unfounded" and offered to give $300 to the Red Cross if anyone could prove that the newspaper had ever accepted any illegal money from Chafin.
It wouldn't be long before the new sheriff in town (Hatfield), a protg of his cousin, the former sheriff and new political enemy (Don Chafin), would be making newspaper news of his own.
Tennis Hatfield would in time be found guilty of ordering his deputies to burn down the building of a Boone County newspaper that wrote negatively of what had become a Hatfield regime - an administration that was even worse than that of Don Chafin.
Dwight Williamson is a Magistrate for Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.